China Environmental News Digest

Daily updated Environmental news related to China

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

China Closes Three Joint Ventures for Failing to Meet Environmental Standards


Text of report in English by official Chinese news agency Xinhua (New China News Agency)

Beijing, 27 June: Three large chemical fibre joint ventures have been closed down for failing to meet China's environmental protection standards, the Economic Daily reported Tuesday [27 June].

The companies, each involving an investment of over 10m US dollars, were closed down by Jiaonan City government of east China's Shandong Province. They companies are Qingdao Erhe Fibre Company Limited, Qingdao Cotton Fibre Company Limited and Qingdao Dahong Company.

Environment protection authorities said the companies established in 1990s by the seashore have been found to be "continuously discharging contaminated liquid waste" into the Yellow Sea.

The Beijing-based daily said Erhe Fibre and Cotton Fibre used nearly 6,000 tons of chemical dye a year and discharged 4,000 tons of waste water.

The companies have been discharging liquid waste that was not up to China's environmental protection criteria and have not installed proper waste treatment facilities, said the newspaper.

Local authorities have required the polluters to tear down their workshops by September and demolition is now under way.

The closing of the plants will put over 1,000 workers out of work and cost the economy 40m US dollars in exports. Local authorities have reached agreements with the headquarters of the three companies to development of environment-friendly new products, remove the problematic workshops and the start-up of new companies. [sentence as received]

China: River is Latest Environmental Mess


By GILLIAN WONG Associated Press

A recent spill illustrates China's environmental troubles.

ZHONG'ERSHI VILLAGE, China -- The murky green Dasha River has been dirty for decades, polluted by coal mines and steel mills that make it fit only for watering livestock and crops downstream.

Then a truck overturned on a windy, mountain road this month, dumping at least 60 tons of potentially carcinogenic coal tar into the water. That spill killed off the Dasha's remaining small fish, shrimp and frogs; stressed an already hard-pressed ecosystem; and incensed locals.

"No one died from the pollution, but our livelihoods are being threatened," farmer Li Si said, standing above the river in Zhong'ershi village, three miles downriver from the accident.

"Once the river is flowing properly again, we'll have to use this contaminated river to irrigate our crops."

He kicked at the nearly dry river bed, exposing clumps of black, shiny coal tar embedded in the mud.

What happened along the Dasha illustrates China's environmental predicament. An environment already out of balance from decades of overpopulation, intensive farming and rapid industrialization is being further degraded by accidents -- often the result of lax regulation.

In the wake of the June 12 truck spill into the Dasha, officials mobilized a huge cleanup effort. This past week, they declared victory.

The government's news agency, Xinhua, said Tuesday that the water quality had been restored to normal. The government in Fuping County, downriver from the accident, said the cleanup achieved "initial success."

But a two-day trip to the mountainous area on the border of Shanxi and Hebei provinces, 190 miles from Beijing, tells a different story.

The air in riverside villages and towns reeked with the sour odor of coal tar. Along the banks, streaks of black, shiny sludge seeped through the sand. Weeds on the riverbed had withered, their leaves stained with black spots.

Many Chinese cities choke on filthy air, but dirty water is the nation's most pressing environmental problem. Most of China's canals, riv ers and lakes are severely tainted by pollution, and only about a third of the 3.7 billion tons of wastewater discharged by China's huge cities each year are treated.

Officials say there have been 76 polluting incidents in the past eight months.

In the worst, a factory explosion in November sent cancer- causing benzene into the Songhua River, which runs by tens of millions of people in northeast China and Russia. Authorities cut off running water to Harbin, a city of 3.8 million people, for five days.

The problem is compounded by the fact that many polluting industries have strong links to local governments, making officials reluctant to enforce environmental laws. Zhu Guangyao, deputy chief of the national environmental agency, said this month that local officials sometimes even work against Beijing-directed environmental protection efforts.

It was unclear when efforts to clean up the Dasha spill began, but the incident was not reported publicly until four days after it occurred. Leaders then faced immense pressure to stanch the spill before it reached the Wangkuai reservoir, which is used by Baoding, a city of 10 million people, and is a standby source for Beijing during the 2008 Olympics.

Coal tar is a byproduct in turning coal into coke for fuel. Prolonged exposure has been linked to increased rates of certain cancers, but it also is used in small doses as a topical medicine to treat eczema and other skin diseases, according to the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Cleanup crews of firefighters, soldiers and locals built dozens of make shift dams with sandbags. One of them was a 1,210-foot-long dam. Xinhua said 4,470 tons of contaminated water had been removed since cleanup efforts started.

On Tuesday, crews were still at it, filling sandbags, trucking polluted water away and building pipes to bring clean upstream water to affected villages. But many farmers complained that the cleanup was not thorough, with workers covering up the coal tar with dirt instead of removing it.

In Dazhaikou village, a few hundred yards from where the truck overturned, streaks of sludge were visible on the concrete wall above the river.

Residents said workers piled mud on top of the sludge, which was now leaking through. One farmer, who refused to give his name to avoid angering local officials, said the cleanup was for show.

"Just smell the air, and you know the problem is still around," he said.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

ADB Offers 80 Mln USD Loan for Pollution Control in China

2006-06-26 17:17:39       Xinhuanews via Crionline

Asian Development Bank (ADB) will offer a loan of 80 million U.S. dollars to help in a project to reduce pollution in the Haihe River Basin in China's Shandong Province, an ADB report said in Manila Monday.

The project, under China's National Haihe River Basin Pollution Prevention and Control Plan, will employ an integrated approach to reduce pollutants discharged into the basin, the report said.

The project includes four sites for wastewater treatment and three for solid waste management. In the wake of local paper and pulp industry producing water contaminants, the project includes two paper mill waste recovery subprojects, the ADB added.

Overall, the project includes a total of nine subprojects to be carried out in four secondary cities and counties, namely Binzhou, Dezhou, Jinan and Liaocheng, it said.

The ADB's 25-year loan will cover about half of the total project cost, and the local finance bureaus and implementing agencies will cover the balance, the report said.

The Shandong Provincial Government is the executing agency for the project, which is due for completion around December 2011.

The Haihe River Basin is one of China's most important industrial regions and home to about 117 million people. The basin has been identified as one of three regions in China with the highest priority for improving water quality, according to the report.

Monday, June 26, 2006

'Learn from mistakes of Western countries'

By Jamie Thompson (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-06-26 05:58

China can achieve economic growth and environmental protection at the same time, a conference in Beijing was told at the weekend.

Former US Governor Christine Whitman told business and governmental leaders who gathered from across Northeast Asia that the country could learn from mistakes made by countries in the West as they developed.

The event, called Paths to Sustainable Growth in Northeast Asia, was organized by Eisenhower Fellowships (EF) and the China Education Association for International Exchange.

It was the first in a series of planned regional conferences across the world by EF. The private, non-profit organization aims to create a global network of emerging leaders from various fields to create dialogue and collaboration.

Whitman, who also served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States for two years from 2001, stressed the importance of protecting the environment to delegates.

She went on to explain the situation in China in an interview with China Daily at the event.

"With the rate of growth, there is enormous pressure to move forward but you have to understand it does not have be an either-or equation.

"You can have both realistic economic growth and good environmental protection.

"Economically speaking, it's far more cost effective to prevent pollution than to try to clean it up."

A white paper on the nation's environment released earlier this month said China is experiencing less environmental pressure but still has major issues to tackle.

It said nine environmental protection laws, about 50 regulations and around 800 environmental standards have been enacted in the country to date.

Whitman, who said she placed an emphasis on protecting the environment during her time as governor of New Jersey from 1994 to 2001, said lessons could also be learned from other countries' mistakes.

"You can't translate anything directly from what happened in the United States and Europe to what is happening here in China, but there are similarities," she said.

"And we now have the wonderful advantage of modern technology.

"There are a number of new technologies that have been developed which enable you to prevent some of the problems that Western nations have had as they developed."

Saturday's conference, held at the Peninsula Palace Hotel, featured a range of other topics, including technology, finance and energy consumption.

The EF has sponsored more than 1,600 "fellows" including 50 in China since its launch in 1953 as a tribute to then US President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The conference attracted fellows from across the region as well as the United States.

EF President John Wolf said: "What we wanted to do was to bring a group of young leaders together to take advantage of the many synergies there already are in this region.

"EF wants to be part of that process

Chinese villages, poisoned by toxins, battle for justice

Tainted wells have spurred legal drive for cleanup, compensation.

By Kathleen E. McLaughlin | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor



Zhang Guanghui, an 11-year-old orphan, rises from the kang, a heated brick bed that he shares with an older cousin. He scurries through his barren four-room concrete home, washing his face and hands, brushing his teeth, and preparing food.

At the center of all his actions is dirty water that he pumps from a well beneath the home. The untreated water was never purged of the toxins that almost certainly killed his mother, severely stunted his growth, and left at least 500 people in this farming community of 1,000 families in northeast China ill and desperate. Still, he drinks the water - which develops an oily film just seconds after it's pumped.

Inside the house, where Zhang and his cousin live alone, the logo of the Jing Quan rice-wine factory down the road is printed on transparent tape that seals plastic on windows and covers the kang. That factory is where Zhang's mother worked for three months in 2002, etching bottles by dipping them into hydrofluoric acid with only rubber gloves for protection.

The same factory dumped ton upon ton of used acid into an unlined pit, court and government documents reveal. The acid seeped into the village's groundwater, poisoning the wells of hundreds of families.

Subsequent tests showed fluoride levels in the water thousands of times higher than is considered safe. Neither the factory nor government has done cleanup; water tests done a year ago show pollution remains.

Still, Zhang drinks the water, which develops an oily film just seconds after it's pumped from the ground. "We all drank the poisoned water. This situation is really bad," said Wang Julan, a 57-year-old grandmother, herself a victim.

Determination to get a day in court

The story of Leifeng and Puxing, some 100 miles west of Siberia, is a protracted saga of environmental abuse, family tragedy, official neglect - and a determination to fight within the system for change.

The villagers' desperation for a resolution to their plight is not unique. Along with its overheated economic growth, China has developed vast environmental problems. Even as spoiled air, water, and soil have degraded the environment across the country, they have often caused illnesses. Serious protests have often followed: The countryside saw nearly 90,000 uprisings last year, the government says, and 50,000 were related to pollution.

China has promised stricter enforcement and monitoring, as well as tougher standards. Larger cities with high-profile environmental problems have drawn attention and action - in November, the international press and government aid poured into Harbin and Jilin after a chemical-plant explosion threatened the downriver drinking water of millions.

But small towns like Leifeng and Puxing, which are just a few hundred miles away from those cities, have languished. Good intentions from the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) can't solve every problem, and local officials often have little incentive to do the right thing. The job of fighting for victims of environmental disasters is thus being taken up by growing ranks of activists and lawyers.

SEPA did not respond to phone calls or written questions about the pollution in Leifeng and Puxing.

"The problem is that despite all the positive rhetoric emanating from Beijing, very little has found its way down to the local level," says Elizabeth Economy, senior Asia researcher with the Council on Foreign Relations and author of "The River Runs Black," on China's environmental crisis.

"The grass-roots ... movement is where the energy is coming from in China," she adds. The plight of Leifeng and Puxing, long ignored by government and media, has become a perfect example of this larger movement. Under the direction of a legal center in Beijing as well as a local law clerk, Leifeng and Puxing villages are fighting for their day in court.

Villagers begin to notice problems

Villagers' concerns began in 2001, when hundreds of pigs and chickens mysteriously died. After Chinese New Year 2002, scores of people were stricken with illnesses ranging from debilitating headaches and severe stomach problems to heart palpitations. After wearing freshly washed clothes, many developed strange rashes. Those who worked at the factory started to talk about what went on inside and fingered the likely culprit: toxic waste.

"At first we didn't believe it," recalls Cao Qingren, a local law clerk who is fighting for the villages. "Then we realized the water must be bad."

Mr. Cao is a devout Buddhist and a longtime Communist Party member. He says these value systems give him hope despite years of failed pleas for help. "I believe in the government and the party," he says. "Somehow, they"re going to solve this for us."

Over the ensuing months, children, the most vulnerable, began to experience problems. Many stopped growing. Several teens have short legs and chronic pain; younger children have visible bone malformations.

Illness has affected entire families. In one case, Zhao Fujun moves with great pain around her family restaurant. Yet her deepest anguish is reserved for her daughter, 15-year-old Tang Rui. Once a top student, Tang is starting to lose her memory. She is short for her age, and can't keep up with her friends at school. X-rays show her bones are thickening and changing. "When other students run, I have to walk," she says.

The family learned last year Tang has a brain tumor. It's not malignant, but the needed surgery costs $5,000 - eight times the average annual salary in Leifeng. Though the genesis of Tang Rui's brain tumor is unknown, the doctors have told the family it's undoubtedly related to contamination.

The more prominent illnesses here are consistent with fluoride overexposure. Small doses of flouride are routinely added to drinking water worldwide to strengthen teeth. But ingesting too much is linked to a condition called skeletal fluorosis, marked by dense, brittle bones vulnerable to breaks and other problems. High exposure to hydrofluoric acid has been linked to heart trouble and mental retardation.

The Jing Quan wine company has refused comment.

Water tests from 2002 show five sites that contained fluoride concentrations of as high as 1,562 milligrams per liter, according to a 2005 report from the Chinese Society of Environmental Sciences. The US Environmental Protection Agency recommends less than 4 mg. per liter, and no more than 2 mg. for young children. In China, the standard is stricter, allowing no more than 1 mg. of fluoride per liter. Inside the factory, tests found very high fluoride levels: One sample showed 12,000 times the allowed amount.

After initial complaints and meetings with local governments, the alcohol company agreed to provide free tap water to those living within 60 meters of the factory and pay three dozen residents up to $5,000. That only addressed part of the problem, since people who live as far away as 500-600 meters have had health problems.

And there are strings attached. In summer, the company often shuts off clean tap water to the village, and has told villagers who took compensatory cash they couldn't sue. The factory does not admit fault, and says it has stopped using acid and dumping it here, but villagers are still suspicious and fear it may also be being dumped on another unsuspecting village.

"There's nothing else that could have caused this," argues Zhang Ruwen, speaking of the death of his sister-in-law.

The family of Dong Shufeng, the mother of the orphaned boy, is convinced that her work with hydrofluoric acid, coupled with drinking the water, killed her. Medical records show acute liver poisoning.

Dong's is the only death linked to the factory, but the hundreds of others who are ill have had no real treatment. At least one-third of the village's 1,000 families still drink questionable water.

Dong's brother-in-law, Zhang, laughs one minute and cries the next as he tells his family's story. He worries about his nephew and his niece, who quit school at age 14 after her mom died. He recalls how, shortly before Dong's death, she wrote a pleading letter to any journalist who would listen, begging for justice. "She knew that she was going to die from this poison," says Zhang, who urged Cao, the law clerk, to immerse himself in the case.

In Cao's home, which abuts the factory, are files of correspondence dating to 2002. They show numerous complaints to the nearby Muling and Mudanjiang city governments and to Heilongjiang Province. Several municipal documents declare the water close to the factory unsafe, but they do not offer plans to supply all villagers with clean water.

Official response is by form letter

China's State Council responded to several separate petitions with form-letter receipts. Government inaction has led to whispers in the village of possible cronyism protecting the factory.

The villagers' fight has meant evading roadblocks set up by factory thugs to prevent them from traveling to Beijing to file petitions with the State Council. They've had their hopes raised by local journalists who have traveled here, only to have them dashed later when they publish nothing.

Cao also has helped pool money in the villages to pay for the $250 per-person medical screenings for court evidence. He's pieced evidence together methodically to create a case the courts can't ignore.

'I am not afraid'

"In the beginning, we common people had no solution," says Cao, his deep-set eyes dark with intensity. "The factory continued doing these things." Throughout the case, residents have talked of rioting. But Cao convinced villagers to be patient. Demonstrations are illegal, he has reminded them, and would hurt their chances in court. "What we are talking about is fact," he says. "I'm not afraid."

But Cao's wife is afraid. When visitors arrive, she stands outside to calm their menacing guard dog. Since Cao took these cases, their home has had four break-in attempts and they've faced veiled and overt threats.

Cao says his telephone was bugged. Near their bed, he keeps four long, well-sharpened knives for self-defense.

Yet still, like so many in this emerging field, Cao believes in the system.

"We still have laws here," says Cao. "This is what I need to do. If the people suffer, then I suffer."

Legal aid center in Beijing

On the campus of a Beijing law school, Professor Wang Canfa greets visitors amid stacks of papers and books, and explains how the China Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims works. A lone white telephone in the small apartment connects hundreds of callers from across China to an army of lawyers who might help them.

"Our mission is to promote public environmental consciousness, legal consciousness, and protect environmental rights by helping pollution victims in court," says Mr. Wang, who has taught environmental law in Xiamen and Beijing for 22 years.

Of 80 cases it has filed, the law center has won a third, lost about 20 percent, and the rest remain in court. Cases have included compensation for farmers after a chemical spill along the Jiangsu Province coast and another where courts halted construction of an animal-experiment lab near Beijing.

Since Wang CANGFA started the law center in 1998, it has trained 269 lawyers and 163 judges on the particulars of Chinese environmental law. Lawyers who take the course then volunteer by handling at least one case a year.

Since the center started, it has taken 9,000 calls from across China. It relies in part on donations from around the world to pay for costs that can run as high as $35,000, a huge sum here. The center advertises its hot-line service around China, and has had calls from every region - except Tibet and Taiwan, Mr. Wang notes with a laugh.

China's "regular people," says Wang, deserve protection. "My center can pressure enterprises and force them to obey the law. Victims provide the best pressure to companies."

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Not So Good Earth

SHANGMA HUANGTOU, China — When Wei Yong returned home to his ancestral village last year to visit his 77-year-old mother, he heard about the tremors. Late one night, the residents told him, the village was rocked by what everyone thought was an earthquake. The ground shook. The houses trembled. And the earth cracked open.

"Liu Run told me her walls were about to cave in," Mr. Wei said. "My sister says everywhere is sinking. She won't even let the dog roam free at night."

There was no earthquake, however. Instead, here in this small village in the central province of Shanxi, three large coal mining operations had been burrowing underground for coal — day and night, sometimes with dynamite. And from far below, they had cracked the earth.

The village of Shangma Huangtou is just the latest victim of a coal mining boom that is devastating large swaths of north China, where some of the nation's richest coal deposits lie. China is the world's largest producer of coal, and much of it is mined here.

While Shanxi provides the fuel that powers China's sizzling economy, thousands of acres of land are sinking because of the ravages of underground coal mining.

Moreover, coal fires are burning uncontrollably below ground here and through much of northern China, adding to global warming by releasing huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Each year, scientists say, about 200 million tons of coal — more than was burned in all of Japan last year — are consumed by raging underground fires that are sometimes started by lightning and sometimes ignited by mining accidents.

Environmental experts call Shanxi a wasteland. The people of Shangma Huangtou call it a home they no longer cherish.

Indeed, the tremors here have not stopped, residents say. And so after years of suffering with increasingly foul air and sandstorms fed by a growing man-made mountain of coal waste, now 50 stories high, created from an open pit mine, the residents say they have had enough. They have petitioned to leave this village.

"People at my age don't like to move to a new place," said Wei Yangxian, 71, as he stood by the village road. "But we have no choice. We have no water. The earth is sinking. The air is poisoned. And there's that big man-made mountain."

The problem is that the village is surrounded. Coal mines on the north and south side have already tunneled under the village; a huge chemical factory, just 650 yards west of the village, has fouled the air; and dust from the man-made mountain on the east side slams into the village daily.

"When I cook," said Liu Runhua, 54, "I even get sand in the food."

All night long, residents here say, trucks carrying coal waste dump it off the side of the mountain. And all day long trucks overloaded with coal rumble past the village, cracking the roads and spraying coal waste on road-side homes.

Indeed, not long ago residents here grew so angry that they blocked the road that passes through town by forming huge dirt mounds as a makeshift barricade against coal-bearing trucks.

The government has done little. Xu Gang, a government spokesman, called moving the village people "impossible" and added that the complaints seemed motivated mostly by an effort to seek compensation. "I think they only do this for money," he said.

But one of the men fighting to save the village is Mr. Wei, 47, a former government official and the village's favorite son, the first to leave for college in the 1970's.

Mr. Wei, a jovial man, knows something about the environmental destruction coal mining can inflict on the land. He himself is in the coal-mining business in northern China.

"My biggest coal mine is in Inner Mongolia," he said. "But there are very few people in Inner Mongolia. Shanxi Province has people everywhere. The coal mining goes on right in the middle of a huge population. And nobody cares about the environment."

When Mr. Wei was a young boy growing up here in the 1960's, he said, Shangma Huangtou was a village of about 500 people set up against the hills, with corn and soybean farms and a stream running through the middle of the village.

"I remember you could drink from that stream," Mr. Wei said.

Everyone here talks about the stream.

"When I was young this stream was very clear," said Lin Youmao, the village's elected chief. "We could find fish and shrimp in this little river. And we could swim in it."

In the early 1980's, however, when China was just waking from its long economic slumber, the village turned into a coal mining town after rich deposits were found in the area.

Armand Hammer, the American industrialist and the founder of Occidental Petroleum, formed one of China's first joint ventures here in north China. In 1982, his company signed an agreement to create a huge open-pit coal mine in Shanxi Province, which had just been designated as the nation's new energy base.

The mine was created about a mile east of the village. And when the new project broke ground, residents recall, Mr. Hammer flew in by private jet and Prime Minister Li Peng came for the ceremony.

Years later, Mr. Hammer pulled out of the project, unhappy with its progress. But the An Tai Bao open-pit coal mine continued to grow, scooping up millions of tons of coal and piling mountains of coal waste next to the village.

Every year, residents say, the mountain grew taller. And every year it crept closer to the village. By the 1990's, the mine was operating around the clock. Today, the mountain stands about 500 feet tall and covers more than 30 square miles of land.

At the An Tai Bao Mine, hundreds of Caterpillar trucks, many of them larger than a house, line up every day to carry earth and coal waste up a winding path to the mountain top, where it is dumped onto the pile.

Complaints flow easily. Liu Runhua took a visitor to her home and pointed at the cracks in her new house. "Take a look at these gaps," she said.

Another resident, Wei Yangxian, said: "If you had come five days earlier you would have seen a sandstorm blanketing our village."

Wei Futang, 63, a former coal miner, spoke up: "Beautiful land should have two things — water and mountains. Without water a beautiful village can turn ugly very fast."

Today, Shangma Huangtou has no water. Villagers say the stream running through here dried up 10 years ago. Now, the wells have run dry, too. It used to be that every household had a well; now the village hires a truck to fetch water from a mile away.

But people here mostly talk about the possibility that the huge slag heap of a mountain will come crashing down and simply bury the village.

That is what happened in Wales in 1966, when a huge pile of coal waste tumbled down on the village of Aberfan, crashing into an elementary school and killing 116 schoolchildren.

And that is what happened in Richard Llewellyn's best-selling 1939 novel "How Green Was My Valley," also the story of a Welsh village destroyed by coal mining.

The people here don't know those stories. But they can sense them.

"There are three coal mines surrounding the village and only one road out," said Mr. Wei, who has pleaded with his mother to leave the village.

The village chief likes to wander the farmlands to measure the huge fissures in the earth. He says a body was buried here a few years ago, but after the ground shifted, relatives came to recover the body and move it to more stable land. They never found it.

"Look at this sinking," he said, surveying the sloping, tilted farmland. "Two years ago this land was flat. Now look at it."

At a town meeting here a year ago, the villagers gathered and decided they had to move before the village is sucked under.

Some residents later talked about the village's founding myth, an old fable about how the beautiful village was founded in ancient times with a small lake in its center. But one day, according to the fable, a smart man from southern China came and stole the village frog, bringing ruin to Shangma Huangtou.

"I don't believe this myth," Mr. Lin, the village chief, said. "I believe there's no water because of the coal mines. The earth is like the human body. And the water is like the blood in your veins. But now there's no water; no blood."

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Planned Global Protests against China's railway launch

[Tuesday, June 20, 2006 16:50]

China's grand inauguration plan for the controversial Qinghai-Tibet railway on July 1 will be met by major global protests outside its embassies and consulates by exile Tibetans and their supporters. Protests are planned in major cities around the world including Ottawa, New York, London and Dharamsala. Black Armbands will be sported by those participating in the campaign to mark the railway launch as "the Black Day" for Tibetans all over and to express their solidarity with those inside Tibet. Shops and restaurants in Dharamsala, home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile, will temporarily close on July 1 in solidarity with the "Reject the Railway" campaign.

The campaign is jointly organised by Students for a Free Tibet (SFT),Gu Chu Sum (an association of former Tibetan political prisoners) and Friends of Tibet India.

The campaign that formally kicked off in Dharamsala on June 18 will publicise the negative effects of the railway on Tibetan people, their culture and the environment. The railway that links Tibet to China is seen by Tibetans as the final phase in China's strategy to wipe out Tibetan identity and culture. A joint press release issued today said the railway will "increase environmental pressure on Tibet's high-altitude ecosystem, bolster China's military strength in the region, and facilitate the entry of large numbers of Chinese settlers into Tibet, further marginalizing Tibetans socially and economically." The release rejected the oft-repeated Chinese claims that the railway will bring economic benefits and properity to the Tibetans in Tibet. It reiterated Jiang Zemin's brazen announcement in the past of the railway being a "political project" intended to consolidate Chinese control in Tibet.

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The Dirty Secret of China's Economy

Posted on: Monday, 19 June 2006, 12:00 CDT

The 2008 Beijing Olympics is being billed as one of those glorious defining moments in history that will signal China's arrival as an economic power. But what if the global media pack and the millions of tourists who descend on China two years from now take away a less-than-flattering impression of the Middle Kingdom?

Yes, China is a remarkable growth story. But it is also fast becoming an ecological wasteland, home to world-class smog, acid rain, polluted rivers and lakes, and deforestation. Environmental problems play a role in the death of some 300,000 Chinese people each year, according to World Bank estimates.

China's torrid growth statisticsthe mainland clocked 10%-plus growth in the first quarteralso mask the huge economic costs of this evolving environmental crisis. On June 5, China's State Environmental Protection Administration [SEPA] issued a report that the mainland's pollution scourge costs the country roughly $200 billion a year, or some 10% in gross domestic product, from lost work productivity, health problems, and government outlays. That is a staggering admission.

DEEP IMPACT China, of course, isn't the first high-speed developing economy to grapple with the tradeoffs between prosperity that lifts millions out of poverty and environmental damage that degrades living standards [see, 2/27/06, "Is Beijing Greedy for Oil?"]. Think of Japan in the 1960s. What's different is China's outsized impact on the global environment.

China's economy is only about one-fifth the size of the U.S, but is already the second biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, second only to the U.S. China's emissions jumped 33% during a 10-year period ended in 2002, according to the latest World Bank figures. A miasma of dirty air from China is spreading across East Asia and even reaching the West Coast of the U.S.

There is no denying that Chinese President Hu Jintao's government takes the problem seriously. Not only is it bad for the mainland's international image, but it could be an explosive political issue later in the decade if left unresolved.

RENEGADE POLLUTERS Pan Yue, vice-minister of SEPA, predicted last summer at an environmental conference in Beijing that "the pollution load of China will quadruple by 2020" if nothing is done. Some 20% of the population lives in "severely polluted" areas, according to SEPA estimates, and 70% of the country's rivers and lakes are in grim shape, figures the World Bank.

Changing all this will require a tremendous amount of political focus by Beijing. It will need to crack down on environmental renegades inside Chinese industry, encourage a move from high-sulfur coal as the mainland's primary energy source, and push to secure the most environmentally friendly technologies from abroad [see, 8/22/05, "A Big Dirty Growth Engine"].

The "policy elite has realized that China, with its huge scale of economic development and emissions, cannot consume energy and pollute the earth the way traditional economies have done in the past," says Wenran Jiang, director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta, Canada, who made a presentation on climate change in early June to Chinese and World Bank officials.

PRESSURE TO COMPLY The good news is that some effective measures can be taken without huge outlays of government spending. Last November, for instance, China agreed to expand a promising pilot program, dubbed GreenWatch, started in 1998, from 22 cities to nationwide by 2010. The program is designed to expose the worst industrial polluters by publicly disclosing once-confidential information on factory emissions, and by ranking companies on their environmental performance.

The idea is that public pressure on the laggards will yield improvement. Some sort of pressure is desperately needed in China, where 60% of companies violate mainland emission rules, according to data compiled by World Bank senior environmental economist Hua Wang, who wrote a recent paper on the program. Similar approaches launched in the mid-1990s by the Philippines and Indonesia improved corporate emission law compliance by 50% and 24%, respectively, Hua points out.

Relocating heavy industries like steel away from population centers is another option. In early 2005, for instance, the government ordered Beijing-based steelmaker Shougang Group to wind down its iron and smelting operation in the capital by 2007 and transfer the facilities out of the city. Shougang plants, mainly fueled by coal, belch out 18,000 tons of dust and contaminants a year.

PLAN FOR NUCLEAR While China can't do much about its ravenous energy demand, it could do a far better job of shifting to cleaner technologies and using its power more efficiently. China consumes more than three times the world energy average to produce one dollar of gross domestic product4.7 times the average for the U.S., 7.7 times the average for Germany, and 11.5 times the average for Japan [see, 4/11/05, "China's Wasteful Ways"].

Beijing has mapped out a plan that calls for hiking reliance on natural gas from 3% to 10% by 2020. Plants fired by gas burn fuel twice as efficiently as turbines fired by coal, which now accounts for two-thirds of China's fuel. The plan also calls for building 30 new nuclear reactors. Cummins (CMI) imports and makes diesel engines for mainland buses that are 30% more efficient than gas engines.

Royal Dutch Shell Group (RD) is licensing technology to fertilizer plants that converts coal into synthetic gas, which burns more efficiently. General Electric (GE) is making a killing selling gas turbines. And both GE and Veolia, of France, are marketing technologies that will harness the methane gas produced from decomposing garbage and sewage, as well as the huge amounts of gas that escape from China's coal mines.

PROFIT OR PRIDE? That said, there are some inside the Chinese government who think the country should get rich first and leave the environmental clean-up for another day. Skeptics wonder whether post-Olympics Beijing will lose interest. "The world will either benefit from a responsible rising China or it will suffer from a China that continues to pursue profits at the expense of the climate and environment," says the University of Alberta's Jiang. It will also make a critical difference to the lives of millions of ordinary Chinese citizens.

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More Pandas in China Than First Thought

The Associated Press Via Washingtonpst
Wednesday, June 21, 2006; 6:18 PM

A zoological expert examines a sick 15-year-old giant panda near a reservoir in Ya'an in southwest China's Sichuan Province on March 20, 2006. A group of scientists from Britain and China using DNA sampling have doubled their estimate of the wild panda population in Wanglang Nature Reserve, a southwestern Chinese sanctuary, saying that bodes well for the survival of one of the world's best-loved endangered species. (AP Photo/Color China Photo)

SHANGHAI, China -- Scientists using DNA samples have doubled their estimates of the wild panda population in a nature sanctuary in China, a finding they say bodes well for the survival of the endangered species.

The researchers believe between 66 and 72 pandas are living in the Wanglang Nature Reserve _ more than twice the previous estimate of 32, said Wei Fumin, a zoologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The scientists arrived at the estimates by taking samples of panda droppings in the reserve and developing genetic profiles, said Wei, who was a member of the research team.

The rising numbers are likely the result of natural population growth, migration from other areas and a logging ban aimed at preserving panda habitat, he said Wednesday.

"We're really seeing these policies start to have an effect," Wei said.

Results of the research, conducted by a joint British-Chinese team, were published in Tuesday's edition of the journal Current Biology.

Despite the rising numbers in Wanglang, Wei said it was too early to say whether similar studies in other preserves would show a higher overall number for China's wild panda population, now estimated at about 1,600.

"There could be other factors at work in different places," he said.

The Worldwide Fund for Nature, which uses a panda in its logo, said the findings were "a positive sign."

"We are thrilled by this new study," said Olivier van Bogaert, spokesman for the Switzerland-based group, known as the World Wildlife Fund in the United States.

He urged continued vigilance. "There are still very low numbers of pandas in the wild. Even if this study might prove that there are more than we thought, the number of pandas is still very low. All the measures that are being taken to protect their habitat need to be enforced and implemented further. Deforestation and habitat loss are still issues that we need to tackle."

Study author Michael Bruford, of Cardiff University in Wales, said the environment at Wanglang wasn't significantly different from China's 40 other panda sanctuaries, indicating there could be many more pandas than previously believed.

And while conservation programs were clearly working, the degree of genetic diversity uncovered at Wanglang seems to indicate panda numbers never fell as low as had been thought, Bruford said.

The researchers said they don't expect their findings to dampen China's enthusiasm for assisted breeding, which has proven effective in boosting the numbers of captive pandas.

Bruford said the field work, carried out by graduate student Zhan Xiangjiang, was arduous, not only due to the mountainous terrain but also because of the need to obtain fresh samples for DNA analysis.

"Once panda feces change from green to brown, we know we've had it," he said.

A separate Chinese team developed the DNA testing method, testifying to Chinese scientists' rising prominence in the field of genetics.

Wei said the new methodology also sheds light on little-known aspects of panda life, such as their family ties, geographic dispersal, age distribution and mating and migration habits.

Samples taken at Wanglang showed considerable genetic diversity, implying robust numbers of pandas and considerable migration in and out of the 123-square-mile preserve in the mountains of Sichuan province in southwestern China.

"Pandas are very hard to study and there's a lot to be known other than just their population," he said.

Further research using DNA sampling is to be carried out this year in another key panda preserve, in Foping in Shaanxi province to the east of Wanglang, Wei said.

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Pollutants will be phased out

Xinhuanews Via
CHINA will spend at least 34 billion yuan (US$4.3 billion) to phase out persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in 10 years, an environmental official said yesterday in Beijing.

"This is only a preliminary calculation and does not include the funds needed to treat places contaminated by these pollutants," said Zhuang Guotai, deputy director of the office for the implementation of the Stockholm Convention under the State Environmental Protection Administration.

He said the funds needed to treat the polluted areas "could be huge." It's difficult to estimate as there is still insufficient information about the areas contaminated and how seriously they have been affected.

POPs are among the most dangerous pollutants released into the environment by human activity. They are linked with cancers, allergies and hypersensitivity, damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, reproductive disorders and immune system problems.

The government has drafted a plan to phase out the world's most toxic chemicals as required by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, he said.

DDT production

According to the plan, China will stop the production and use of chlordane, mirex and DDT by 2010. Electronic appliances with POPs will also be safely disposed of by 2015.

By 2015, China will also stop the production and use of these pollutants in pesticides. The plan will be submitted to the State Council for approval next month.

Under the convention, China will have to submit its national implementation plan to the convention's secretariat by November 11.

China signed the Stockholm Convention in May 2001. It came into effect in China in November 2004.

Funding to control POPs will come from the central government, local governments and domestic companies as well as international organizations and foreign governments.

The fifth meeting to discuss China's implementation of the convention was held yesterday with more than 100 government officials and representatives from China, Europe, Japan and the United Nations.

"The Stockholm Convention can be successful only if it succeeds in China as the country is very influential in combating POPs," said Zoltan Csizer, an adviser of the UN Industrial Development Organization.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Two Chinese rivers threatened

Saturday, Jun 17, 2006,Page 4

Chinese authorities tried to slow a river hit with a toxic spill by building 51 dams and were trucking polluted water upstream to dump it back into the river to filter it with cotton, straw and activated carbon, state media said yesterday.

The spill of about 60 tonnes of coal tar into the Dasha River in north China's Shanxi Province was the latest in a series of mishaps to degrade the country's already polluted waterways. Officials said there have been at least 76 water pollution accidents in the last six months.

In a separate incident on Thursday, a series of explosions rocked the Longxin Chemical Plant in the city of Longquan, Zhejiang Province, destroying two factories and threatening to contaminate the Oujiang River, which empties into the East China Sea, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

A spring that feeds the Oujiang lies close to the blast site. Large amounts of sand and stones were trucked to the site to stem the intake of the spring in an effort to prevent any waste water from contaminating the river, Xinhua said.

One person was injured and two people, a 38-year-old woman and a 42-year-old man, were reported missing after the blast, it said.

Earlier state media reports claimed the blasts released huge amounts of toxic fumes.

But an official at the Environmental Protection Bureau in Longquan said monitoring had found no serious impact to water or air quality from the disaster.

Like many Chinese bureaucrats, the official refused to give his name. He said he could not provide any further information.

The plant mainly produces hydrogen peroxide -- a chemical commonly used for bleaching, antiseptics and deodorants, the official Xinhua news agency reported late on Thursday. Industrial hydrogen peroxide contains arsenic, heavy metals and other toxic ingredients.

As a precaution, about 800 people were evacuated from the area near the factory, a female official at the Chinese Communist Party publicity office in Longquan said yesterday.

She said firefighters were standing by to help prevent further explosions, but that the blazes set off by the multiple explosions were brought under control on Thursday evening.

Some 4.7 million people live along the Oujiang.

The cause of the explosions was under investigation, the party official said.

In the Dasha River spill, a truck overloaded with 60 tonnes of coal tar -- a substance linked to cancer -- crashed and dumped its contents into the river.

Cleanup crews were scrambling yesterday to absorb the toxic substance before it reaches the Wangkuai Reservoir of Baoding, a city of about 10 million people, Xinhua said.

The pollution was said to be traveling about 1kph downstream toward Baoding, which is about 70km from the site of the accident.

The day after the spill, the pollution had reached Hebei's Fuping County, where some 50,000 residents rely on the river for drinking water. Fuping residents were told to take water from nearby reservoirs and seven standby wells until the river could be cleaned, Xinhua said.

Prolonged exposure to coal tar has been linked to cancer.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Environment expo

MORE than 270 firms from 20 countries and regions will take part in a four-day environmental protection equipment and technology expo, IFAT China, beginning on June 27 at the Shanghai New International Expo Center, said event organizer Munich Trade Fairs Co.

The expo will also feature nearly 90 lectures and seminars by renowned scholars, government and environmental association officials on sewage, recycling, air pollution, and environmentally sustainable energy sources.

China not to issue statistical index assessing "Green GDP" in near future

Xinhua news
UPDATED: 14:02, June 15, 2006

China will not issue the statistical index assessing the "Green GDP" in the near future, a Chinese government official said.

As most of the items used to assess green GDP are untradable, it is difficult for those indices to be formulated, the China Securities Journal quoted a senior official with the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) as saying.

For example, the environmental index is affected by regional factors to a large extent, said the official, whose name is not disclosed in the report.

In the 11th five-year program, the concept of "Green GDP" was highly stressed. The program not only sets goals of curbing pollution but also pledges to achieve economic development on an environmentally-friendly basis.

The research for building a scientific green GDP assessing framework is underway and is taking shape, said the official.

The NBS is designing the index in a way that takes into account people's satisfaction with their life, the environment and society, in contrast to a more traditional index that only evaluates economic development.

China's Gini Index exceeds the international warning line of 0.4 mainly due to the large gap between the income of urban and rural residents.

China's higher Gini Index should be calculated according to the country's particular conditions. Calculated individually, the Gini Index of the urban residents and the rural residents is still below 0.4, he said.

Gini Index is an index assessing the fairness level of the income distribution of a country.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

70% of Huaihe's main tributaries polluted

(Xinhua)Updated: 2006-06-14 15:20

Around 70 percent of the tributaries of the Huaihe River, the supplier of water to one sixth of the country's 1.3 billion population, are seriously polluted, according to an annual environment monitoring report issued by the Environmental Protection Administration of east China's Anhui Province.

The overall water quality of the mainstream is described as lightly contaminated. Most of the pollutants are ammonia and nitrogen, the report says.

In 1994, China launched a campaign to clean the water of the Huaihe River. By the end of 2005, 62.7 percent of the projects listed in the campaign were completed but with limited effect. The water-cleaning action "achieved less than expected result, and pollution in the tributaries is still severe, if not worse," said Pan Yue, deputy director of the State Administration of Environmental Protection.

Water from Huaihe's tributaries, which carry 60 percent of the total water resources of the river, are too polluted to supply even industrial production and irrigation, let alone drinking.

The State Administration of Environmental Protection has ordered local governments to adjust the industrial structure, arrange agricultural and industrial production based on the river's capacity and push forward the emission licensing system.

The Huaihe River flows through four central and eastern Chinese provinces - Henan, Anhui, Shandong and Jiangsu - and is located between the country's other two major rivers, the Yangtze and the Yellow rivers.

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Beijing's planned water supply faces pollution threat

UPDATED: 17:15, June 14, 2006 Via Xinhuanews

Beijing's future water resources are already under threat from pollution.

The source of the problem is a river over a thousand kilometers from the capital originating in central China's Shaanxi Province. The Han River flows 600 kilometers east to the Danjiangkou Reservoir, which, in five years time, will contain 33.9 billion cubic meters of water to cater to the needs of thirsty Beijing, Tianjin and parts of Hebei Province, all in north China.

The Han River contributes over 70 percent of the reservoir's water, so any changes of its quality or volume would have a direct bearing on drinking water of the nation's capital.

It flows through the three cities of Hanzhong, Ankang and Shangluo and 27 counties populated by nine million people in Shaanxi for over 600 kilometers.

Currently, there is a small number of industrial enterprises along the basin, but experts fear this will not last long as economic development stretches the river's sewage disposal capacity.

There are only two sewage disposal plants along the Han River's Shaanxi section, in Hanzhong and Ankang, with a combined disposal capacity of around 30 million tons a year, far less than the 60 million tons of sewage discharged by the two cities.

Lack of funds is a major obstacle to the building of more sewage disposal plants and corresponding pipeline networks to collect waste water from thousands of households in the cities, as they cost usually millions of U.S. dollars, said Li Xingmin, vice-director of the Shaanxi environmental protection bureau.

Li estimated the 27 counties discharge about 100 million tons of sewage every year directly into the Han River. A strip of dark water is often found when the river flows through urban areas and officials are concerned it will become longer and wider as the population and economy grows.

In order to protect the water quality of Danjiangkou Reservoir, the Chinese government has issued a plan requiring major cities near the reservoir to improve the way they develop urban infrastructure.

An inspection team of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's legislature, recently visited Shaanxi to check the implementation of three environmental protection laws on solid wastes, water and air pollution.

Local businesses' eagerness for expansion has also posed serious threats to the river. The waste discharge volume has been rising since 2000 along with a growing number of enterprises in industries such as paper making,non-ferrous metal mining and construction material making.

Xu Yongqing, head of the inspection team and member of the NPC Standing Committee, cautioned that water pollution treatment, though progress has been made, needs to be improved, urging local governments to work hard to ensure that objectives in the 11th Five-year Plan could be realized.

According to the plan, the total discharge volume of major pollutants must drop by 10 percent while the economic scale expands by 40 percent during 2006 to 2010.

To meet this objective, Shaanxi has outlined a plan to build an urban waste disposal plant in each county along the river basin and try to ensure 70 percent of urban garbage is properly disposed.

But such a process might be arduous, said Li Xingmin, adding that lack of environmental protection law enforcement is a major obstacle, urging the government to allocate more funds for environment protection undertakings.

It is a process that requires joint efforts from all government departments and the whole society, he said.

Source: Xinhua

The dangers of speaking out

Posted by Richard Spencer at 14 Jun 06 11:14 Via

At the risk of inflaming anti-journalist passions further, I feel today I should return to the question of what we journalists are up to in China.

The pretext for this is the fate of a man called Fu Xiancai. He is a regular activist on the Three Gorges Dam, campaigning for better resettlement
compensation for residents who have been forced to move for the dam and the reservoir.

Three gorges
Part of old Fengjie city was torn down to make way for the dam

Their number are something approaching 1.2 million according to the government, perhaps between 1.5 and 2 million if you include unofficial
residents like migrant workers, unregistered children etc etc.

His work has some validity. Even the government admits there has been corruption and embezzlement involved in the distribution of resettlement
money, and every now and then a local official has been sent down as an example.

In May, according to the German public tv station ARD and Human Rights in China, he gave an interview for a current affairs programme in which he
discussed the dam. This was, as I have previously described, against the rules but not against
common practice.

Unfortunately, he had been warned before about his activism, and attacked - a broken leg last year, followed by a few blows to the head.

Last week, he was summoned to his local police station to be ticked off about his "oppositionism" and told no good would come of it. On his way back home, he was whacked from behind, and left unconscious in a ditch.

Now he is in hospital, paralysed from the waist down, having suffered a fractured vertebra in his neck. Visitors are not being allowed in to see
him, so the information comes via his family.

This is a pretty chilling incident for reporters. We are often intruding into sensitive areas, and deciding how to treat our interviewees is a very difficult one. He is not the first to be beaten up for talking to the press. Others have been jailed, sometimes for substantial terms.

When I did some reporting in the Three Gorges about the same issue, I gave all the people I spoke to pseudonyms, a common enough practice. On the other
hand, that's much more difficult for television, which understandably wants the people they speak to to be visible.

In any case, many activists want their voices to be heard openly, sometimes because they are over-brave or even publicity-seekers, sometimes because
they have a genuine belief that to "go public" is a way of demanding their rights and showing they are not afraid.

In some cases, there is no doubt that bringing activists' name to international attention is the best way of protecting them.

I don't think any journalist here is going to stop doing interviews just because of the threat of violence. We all wonder whether we do enough to
protect our sources, however.

It would help if governments were more publicly proactive in this regard - one hopes that the German embassy and not just the television station is
writing a letter of protest. There are signs that embassies are showing more interest in this area.

But I still wonder from time to time whether I should ask the paper for a couple of months off, just so I can search out the rebels and complainers
and others who have appeared in my stories over the years, and find out what, if anything, has happened to them.

Blog update: The German foreign ministry has indeed now just put out a statement on the Fu Xiancai case. To quote from the Associated Press: "We are dealing with a terrible misdeed that cannot remain without consequences," German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said.

He said Germany's embassy in Beijing on Wednesday told the Chinese government that the incident must be investigated and "those responsible must be found and brought to justice."

German officials also called on China to ensure that Fu gets the "necessary medical care" and stressed that working conditions for foreign correspondents in Beijing "must be arranged in such a way that proper work is possible," Jaeger said.

Chinese officials "agreed to examine the incident and report on the result,"he added.

Let's hope other embassies and governments follow suit, as appropriate.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Civil servants in China must do without

By ALEXA OLESEN, Associated Press WriterTue Jun 13, 9:00 AM ET

China ordered civil servants to do without cars, elevators and air conditioning Tuesday as part of an energy-saving awareness campaign.

The government targeted its employees with the one-day ban so that they could serve as an example to others, the official China Daily newspaper said, and because they use so much energy: the 7 million civil servants consume about 5 percent of the country's total electricity a year — equal to the amount consumed by 780 million farmers.

The order came on the heels of distressing news. China relies on coal for two-thirds of its energy needs, and pollution from generating plants and ill-regulated factories are fouling the air. In the past week, senior officials have warned that China's already degraded environment is deteriorating further and that targets to increase energy efficiency were in danger of slipping.

But the energy-saving day didn't prove popular. The China Daily said China's Cabinet, the State Council, gave the order, telling central government employees to leave their cars at home, to take stairs instead of elevators and to keep the air conditioning off.

When asked about the order and if officials were complying, the information office of the State Council refused to confirm the ban, referring queries to the National Development and Reform Commission, which develops energy policy. Commission officials did not respond to a request for details.

At the State Family Planning Commission, "a few hundred people" were following the directive, said Chen Bingshu in the agency's public affairs department. Some, she said, were climbing as many as seven flights of stairs to get to their offices.

But not Chen. She said she flouted the rules and drove her car to and from work because she needed to nurse her 6-month-old daughter at lunchtime and wanted to conserve time in the commute.

The conservation message seemingly did not even reach its natural constituency: the State Environmental Protection Administration. An officer in the public affairs department, who would only give his surname, Li, said no one had informed the agency about the campaign.

Pollution From Chinese Coal Casts a Global Shadow

HANJING, China — One of China's lesser-known exports is a dangerous brew of soot, toxic chemicals and climate-changing gases from the smokestacks of coal-burning power plants.

In early April, a dense cloud of pollutants over Northern China sailed to nearby Seoul, sweeping along dust and desert sand before wafting across the Pacific. An American satellite spotted the cloud as it crossed the West Coast.

Researchers in California, Oregon and Washington noticed specks of sulfur compounds, carbon and other byproducts of coal combustion coating the silvery surfaces of their mountaintop detectors. These microscopic particles can work their way deep into the lungs, contributing to respiratory damage, heart disease and cancer.

Filters near Lake Tahoe in the mountains of eastern California "are the darkest that we've seen" outside smoggy urban areas, said Steven S. Cliff, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California at Davis.

Unless China finds a way to clean up its coal plants and the thousands of factories that burn coal, pollution will soar both at home and abroad. The increase in global-warming gases from China's coal use will probably exceed that for all industrialized countries combined over the next 25 years, surpassing by five times the reduction in such emissions that the Kyoto Protocol seeks.

The sulfur dioxide produced in coal combustion poses an immediate threat to the health of China's citizens, contributing to about 400,000 premature deaths a year. It also causes acid rain that poisons lakes, rivers, forests and crops.

The sulfur pollution is so pervasive as to have an extraordinary side effect that is helping the rest of the world, but only temporarily: It actually slows global warming. The tiny, airborne particles deflect the sun's hot rays back into space.

But the cooling effect from sulfur is short-lived. By contrast, the carbon dioxide emanating from Chinese coal plants will last for decades, with a cumulative warming effect that will eventually overwhelm the cooling from sulfur and deliver another large kick to global warming, climate scientists say. A warmer climate could lead to rising sea levels, the spread of tropical diseases in previously temperate climes, crop failures in some regions and the extinction of many plant and animal species, especially those in polar or alpine areas.

Coal is indeed China's double-edged sword — the new economy's black gold and the fragile environment's dark cloud.

Already, China uses more coal than the United States, the European Union and Japan combined. And it has increased coal consumption 14 percent in each of the past two years in the broadest industrialization ever. Every week to 10 days, another coal-fired power plant opens somewhere in China that is big enough to serve all the households in Dallas or San Diego.

To make matters worse, India is right behind China in stepping up its construction of coal-fired power plants — and has a population expected to outstrip China's by 2030.

Aware of the country's growing reliance on coal and of the dangers from burning so much of it, China's leaders have vowed to improve the nation's energy efficiency. No one thinks that effort will be enough. To make a big improvement in emissions of global-warming gases and other pollutants, the country must install the most modern equipment — equipment that for the time being must come from other nations.

Industrialized countries could help by providing loans or grants, as the Japanese government and the World Bank have done, or by sharing technology. But Chinese utilities have in the past preferred to buy cheap but often-antiquated equipment from well connected domestic suppliers instead of importing costlier gear from the West.

The Chinese government has been reluctant to approve the extra spending. Asking customers to shoulder the bill would set back the government's efforts to protect consumers from inflation and to create jobs and social stability.

But each year China defers buying advanced technology, older equipment goes into scores of new coal-fired plants with a lifespan of up to 75 years.

"This is the great challenge they have to face," said David Moskovitz, an energy consultant who advises the Chinese government. "How can they continue their rapid growth without plunging the environment into the abyss?"

Living Better With Coal

Wu Yiebing and his wife, Cao Waiping, used to have very little effect on their environment. But they have tasted the rising standard of living from coal-generated electricity and they are hooked, even as they suffer the vivid effects of the damage their new lifestyle creates.

Years ago, the mountain village where they grew up had electricity for only several hours each evening, when water was let out of a nearby dam to turn a small turbine. They lived in a mud hut, farmed by hand from dawn to dusk on hillside terraces too small for tractors, and ate almost nothing but rice on an income of $25 a month.

Today, they live here in Hanjing, a small town in central China where Mr. Wu earns nearly $200 a month. He operates a large electric drill 600 feet underground in a coal mine, digging out the fuel that has powered his own family's advancement. He and his wife have a stereo, a refrigerator, a television, an electric fan, a phone and light bulbs, paying just $2.50 a month for all the electricity they can burn from a nearby coal-fired power plant.

They occupy a snug house with brick walls and floors and a cement foundation — the bricks and cement are products of the smoking, energy-ravenous factories that dot the valley. Ms. Cao decorates the family's home with calendar pictures of Zhang Ziyi, the Chinese film star. She is occasionally dismissive about the farming village where she lived as a girl and now seldom visits except over Chinese New Year.

"We couldn't wear high heels then because the paths were so bad and we were always carrying heavy loads," said Ms. Cao, who was wearing makeup, a stylish yellow pullover, low-slung black pants and black pumps with slender three-inch heels on a recent Sunday morning.

One-fifth of the world's population already lives in affluent countries with lots of air-conditioning, refrigerators and other appliances. This group consumes a tremendous amount of oil, natural gas, nuclear power, coal and alternative energy sources.

Now China is trying to bring its fifth of the world's population, people like Mr. Wu and Ms. Cao, up to the same standard. One goal is to build urban communities for 300 million people over the next two decades.

Already, China has more than tripled the number of air-conditioners in the past five years, to 84 per 100 urban households. And it has brought modern appliances to hundreds of millions of households in small towns and villages like Hanjing.

The difference from most wealthy countries is that China depends overwhelmingly on coal. And using coal to produce electricity and run factories generates more global-warming gases and lung-damaging pollutants than relying on oil or gas.

Indeed, the Wu family dislikes the light gray smog of sulfur particles and other pollutants that darkens the sky and dulls the dark green fields of young wheat and the white blossoms of peach orchards in the distance. But they tolerate the pollution.

"Everything else is better here," Mr. Wu said. "Now we live better, we eat better."

China's Dark Clouds

Large areas of North-Central China have been devastated by the spectacular growth of the local coal industry. Severe pollution extends across Shaanxi Province, where the Wus live, and neighboring Shanxi Province, which produces even more coal.

Not long ago, in the historic city of Datong, about 160 miles west of Beijing, throngs of children in colorful outfits formed a ceremonial line at the entrance to the city's 1,500-year-old complex of Buddhist cave grottoes to celebrate Datong's new designation as one of China's "spiritually civilized cities."

The event was meant to bolster pride in a city desperately in need of good news. Two years ago, Datong, long the nation's coal capital, was branded one of the world's most-polluted cities. Since then, the air quality has only grown worse.

Datong is so bad that last winter the city's air quality monitors went on red alert. Desert dust and particulate matter in the city had been known to force the pollution index into warning territory, above 300, which means people should stay indoors.

On Dec. 28, the index hit 350.

"The pollution is worst during the winter," said Ji Youping, a former coal miner who now works with a local environmental protection agency. "Datong gets very black. Even during the daytime, people drive with their lights on."

Of China's 10 most polluted cities, four, including Datong, are in Shanxi Province. The coal-mining operations have damaged waterways and scarred the land. Because of intense underground mining, thousands of acres are prone to sinking, and hundreds of villages are blackened with coal waste.

There is a Dickensian feel to much of the region. Roads are covered in coal tar; houses are coated with soot; miners, their faces smeared almost entirely black, haul carts full of coal rocks; the air is thick with the smell of burning coal.

There are growing concerns about the impact of this coal boom on the environment. The Asian Development Bank says it is financing pollution control programs in Shanxi because the number of people suffering from lung cancer and other respiratory diseases in the province has soared over the past 20 years. Yet even after years of government-mandated cleanup efforts the region's factories belch black smoke.

The government has promised to close the foulest factories and to shutter thousands of illegal mines, where some of the worst safety and environmental hazards are concentrated. But no one is talking about shutting the region's coal-burning power plants, which account for more than half the pollution. In fact, Shanxi and Shaanxi are rapidly building new coal-fired plants to keep pace with soaring energy demand.

To meet that demand, which includes burning coal to supply power to Beijing, Shanxi Province alone is expected to produce almost as much coal as was mined last year in Germany, England and Russia combined.

Burning all that coal releases enormous quantities of sulfur.

"Sulfur dioxide is China's No. 1 pollution problem," said Barbara A. Finamore, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council's China Clean Energy Program in Washington. "This is the most serious acid rain problem in the world."

China released about 22.5 million tons of sulfur in 2004, more than twice the amount released in the United States, and a Chinese regulator publicly estimated last autumn that emissions would reach 26 million tons for 2005, although no official figures have been released yet. Acid rain now falls on 30 percent of China.

Studies have found that the worst effects of acid rain and other pollution occur within several hundred miles of a power plant, where the extra acidity of rainfall can poison crops, trees and lakes alike.

But China is generating such enormous quantities of pollution that the effects are felt farther downwind than usual. Sulfur and ash that make breathing a hazard are being carried by the wind to South Korea, Japan and beyond.

Not enough of the Chinese emissions reach the United States to have an appreciable effect on acid rain yet. But, they are already having an effect in the mountains in West Coast states. These particles are dense enough that, at maximum levels during the spring, they account at higher altitudes for a fifth or more of the maximum levels of particles allowed by the latest federal air quality standards. Over the course of a year, Chinese pollution averages 10 to 15 percent of allowable levels of particles. The amounts are smaller for lower-lying cities, like Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

China is also the world's largest emitter of mercury, which has been linked to fetal and child development problems, said Dan Jaffe, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington.

Unless Chinese regulators become much more aggressive over the next few years, considerably more emissions could reach the United States. Chinese pollution is already starting to make it harder and more expensive for West Coast cities to meet stringent air quality standards, said Professor Cliff of the University of California, slowing four decades of progress toward cleaner air.

Nothing Beats It

China knows it has to do something about its dependence on coal.

The government has set one of the world's most ambitious targets for energy conservation: to cut the average amount of energy needed to produce each good or service by 20 percent over the next five years. But with an economy growing 10 percent a year and with energy consumption climbing even faster, a conservation target amounting to 3.7 percent a year does not keep pace.

All new cars, minivans and sport utility vehicles sold in China starting July 1 will have to meet fuel-economy standards stricter than those in the United States. New construction codes encourage the use of double-glazed windows to reduce air-conditioning and heating costs and high-tech light bulbs that produce more light with fewer watts.

Meanwhile, other sources of energy have problems. Oil is at about $70 a barrel. Natural gas is in short supply in most of China, and prices for imports of liquefied natural gas have more than doubled in the last three years. Environmental objections are slowing the construction of hydroelectric dams on China's few untamed rivers. Long construction times for nuclear power plants make them a poor solution to addressing blackouts and other power shortages now.

For the past three years, China has also been trying harder to develop other alternatives. State-owned power companies have been building enormous wind turbines up and down the coast. Chinese companies are also trying to develop geothermal energy, tapping the heat of underground rocks, and are researching solar power and ways to turn coal into diesel fuel. But all of these measures fall well short. Coal remains the obvious choice to continue supplying almost two-thirds of China's energy needs.

Choices and Consequences

China must make some difficult choices. So far, the nation has been making decisions that it hopes will lessen the health-damaging impact on its own country while sustaining economic growth as cheaply as possible. But those decisions will also add to the emissions that contribute to global warming.

The first big choice involves tackling sulfur dioxide. The government is now requiring that the smokestacks of all new coal-fired plants be fitted with devices long used in Western power plants to remove up to 95 percent of the sulfur. All existing coal-fired plants in China are supposed to have the devices installed by 2010.

While acknowledging that they have missed deadlines, Chinese officials insist they have the capacity now to install sulfur filters on every power plant smokestack. "I don't think there will be a problem reaching this target before 2010," said Liu Deyou, chief engineer at the Beijing SPC Environment Protection Tech Engineering Company, the sulfur-filter manufacturing arm of one of the five big, state-owned utilities.

Japan may be 1,000 miles east of Shanxi Province, but the Japanese government is so concerned about acid rain from China that it has agreed to lend $125 million to Shanxi. The money will help pay for desulfurization equipment for large, coal-fired steel plants in the provincial capital, Taiyuan.

The question is how much the state-owned power companies will actually use the pollution control equipment once it is installed. The equipment is costly to maintain and uses enormous amounts of electricity that could instead be sold to consumers. Moreover, regulated electricity tariffs offer little reward for them to run the equipment.

In 2002, the Chinese government vowed to cut sulfur emissions by 10 percent by 2005. Instead, they rose 27 percent. If Chinese officials act swiftly, sulfur emissions could be halved in the next couple of decades, power officials and academic experts say. But if China continues to do little, sulfur emissions could double, creating even more devastating health and environmental problems.

Even so, halving sulfur emissions has its own consequences: it would make global warming noticeable sooner.

China contributes one-sixth of the world's sulfur pollution. Together with the emissions from various other countries, those from China seem to offset more than one-third of the warming effect from manmade carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere, according to several climate models.

But the sulfur particles typically drift to the ground in a week and stop reflecting much sunlight. Recent research suggests that it takes up to 10 years before a new coal-fired power plant has poured enough long-lasting carbon dioxide into the air to offset the cooling effect of the plant's weekly sulfur emissions.

Climate experts say that, ideally, China would cut emissions of sulfur and carbon dioxide at the same time. But they understand China's imperative to clean up sulfur more quickly because it has a far more immediate effect on health.

"It's sort of unethical to expect people not to clean up their air quality for the sake of the climate," said Tami Bond, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Hunt for Efficiency

The second big decision facing China lies in how efficiently the heat from burning coal is converted into electricity. The latest big power plants in Western countries are much more efficient. Their coal-heated steam at very high temperatures and pressures can generate 20 to 50 percent more kilowatts than older Chinese power plants, even as they eject the same carbon-dioxide emissions and potentially lower sulfur emissions.

China has limited the construction of small power plants, which are inefficient, and has required the use of somewhat higher steam temperatures and pressures. But Chinese officials say few new plants use the highest temperatures and pressures, which require costly imported equipment.

And Chinese power utilities are facing a squeeze. The government has kept electricity cheap, by international standards, to keep consumers happy. But this has made it hard for utilities to cover their costs, especially as world coal prices rise.

The government has tried to help by limiting what mines can charge utilities for coal. Mines have responded by shipping the lowest-quality, dirtiest, most-contaminated coal to power plants, say power and coal executives. The utilities have also been reluctant to spend on foreign equipment, steering contracts to affiliates instead.

"When you have a 1 percent or less profit," said Harley Seyedin, chief executive of the First Washington Group, owner of oil-fired power plants in Southeastern China's Guangdong Province, "you don't have the cash flow to invest or to expand in a reasonable way."

A New Technology

The third big choice involves whether to pulverize coal and then burn the powder, as is done now, or convert the coal into a gas and then burn the gas, in a process known as integrated gasification combined combustion, or I.G.C.C.

One advantage of this approach is that coal contaminants like mercury and sulfur can be easily filtered from the gas and disposed. Another advantage is that carbon dioxide can be separated from the emissions and pumped underground, although this technology remains unproven.

Leading climate scientists like this approach to dealing with China's rising coal consumption. "There's a whole range of things that can be done; we should try to deploy coal gasification," said Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the United Nations-affiliated Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The World Bank in 2003 offered a $15 million grant from the Global Environment Facility to help China build its first state-of-the-art power plant to convert coal into a gas before burning it. The plan called for pumping combustion byproducts from the plant underground.

But the Chinese government put the plan on hold after bids to build the plant were higher than expected. Chinese officials have expressed an interest this spring in building five or six power plants with the new technology instead of just one. But they are in danger of losing the original grant if they do not take some action soon, said Zhao Jian-ping, the senior energy specialist in the Beijing office of the World Bank.

Another stumbling block has been that China wants foreign manufacturers to transfer technological secrets to Chinese rivals, instead of simply filling orders to import equipment, said Anil Terway, director of the East Asia energy division at the Asian Development Bank.

"The fact that they are keen to have the technologies along with the equipment is slowing things down," he said.

Andy Solem, vice president for China infrastructure at General Electric, a leading manufacturer of coal gasification equipment, said he believed that China would place orders in 2007 or 2008 for the construction of a series of these plants. But he said some technology transfer was unavoidable.

Western companies could help Chinese businesses take steps to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, like subsidizing the purchase of more efficient boilers. Some companies already have such programs in other countries, to offset the environmental consequences of their own carbon-dioxide emissions at home, and are looking at similar projects in China. But the scale of emissions in China to offset is enormous.

For all the worries about pollution from China, international climate experts are loath to criticize the country without pointing out that the average American still consumes more energy and is responsible for the release of 10 times as much carbon dioxide as the average Chinese. While China now generates more electricity from coal than does the United States, America's consumption of gasoline dwarfs China's, and burning gasoline also releases carbon dioxide.

An Insatiable Demand?

The Chinese are still far from achieving what has become the basic standard in the West. Urban elites who can afford condominiums are still a tiny fraction of China's population. But these urban elites are role models with a lifestyle sought by hundreds of millions of Chinese. Plush condos on sale in Shanghai are just a step toward an Americanized lifestyle that is becoming possible in the nation's showcase city.

Far from the Wu family in rural Shaanxi, the Lu Bei family grew up in cramped, one-room apartments in Shanghai. Now the couple own a large three-bedroom apartment in the city's futuristic Pudong financial district. They have two television sets, four air-conditioners, a microwave, a dishwasher, a washing machine and three computers. They also have high-speed Internet access.

"This is my bedroom," said Lu Bei, a 35-year-old insurance agency worker entering a spacious room with a king-size bed. "We moved here two years ago. We had a baby and wanted a decent place to live."

For millions of Chinese to live like the Lus with less damage to the environment, energy conservation is crucial. But curbing that usage would be impossible as long as China keeps energy prices low. Gasoline still costs $2 a gallon, for example, and electricity is similarly cheap for many users.

With Chinese leaders under constant pressure to create jobs for the millions of workers flooding from farms into cities each year, as well as the rapidly growing ranks of college graduates, there has been little enthusiasm for a change of strategy.

Indeed, China is using subsidies to make its energy even cheaper, a strategy that is not unfamiliar to Americans, said Kenneth Lieberthal, a China specialist at the University of Michigan. "They have done in many ways," he said, "what we have done."

Keith Bradsher reported from Hanjing and Guangzhou, China, for this article and David Barboza from Datong and Shanghai.

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